Three bears moved from Sweetwater
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
SWEETWATER – It’s strike one for three marauding black bears that wildlife officers have captured in the past three days at Sweetwater Lake, northwest of Dotsero. Strike two, and they’re out.
Colorado Division of Wildlife employees had a busy weekend dealing with the troublesome bears, which had been cruising campsites at the lake and visiting some homes on Sweetwater Creek. One bear was captured late last week. Two were trapped Sunday morning.
It’s a familiar story for the wildlife officers who have been dealing with a recent surge of bear activity in the region. Problem bears are trapped, tranquilized and equipped with numbered ear tags and an identifying computer-chip implant. Then they’re taken far away from where they were captured.
State policy specifies that if the marked bears prove to be a problem a second time (strike two), they are destroyed.
“We’re running out of places to take bears,” District Wildlife Manager Sonia Marzec said as she prepared a tranquilizer injection for young, 175-pound male bear that was captured at the lake. The second bear captured a little further down the creek Sunday was a 400-pound male. The tagged bears were released separately in country northwest of Sweetwater.
Wildlife experts and Sweetwater residents cited a lack of natural bear food as the reason the bruins suddenly have become a problem. A late-season frost damaged the acorn and berry crops that the bears rely on during this time of year, when the animals are bulking up for winter hibernation.
Bears have been coming into towns to forage for easily available food, Marzec said. Some livestock producers have reported bears killing sheep – as many as 11 sheep in a single night, she said.
Sweetwater Lake Resort operator Adriane Brink-Scheu said there have been at least five bears roaming the Sweetwater area this summer.
“They haven’t gotten into big trouble, but they have been mischievous,” she said. Marzec and Brink-Scheu said that Sweetwater Resort doesn’t typically have a bear problem. There has been just one other problem bear in the past seven years, she said. The resort invested in bear-proof trash bins, which up until now had eliminated the problem, Brink-Scheu said.
This year, however, the hungry bears have been drawn to Forest Service and private campsites around the lake. The Sweetwater Lake staff has been discouraging tent camping and warning campers.
“With a lack of natural forage, they’re looking for trash,” Marzec said. She said that at this time of year, bears need to consume 20,000 calories every day to prepare for hibernation.
One bear at the lake tugged coolers off the top of a jeep, pulled out the food and had a feast.
“We could see him at 9 a.m. on the hillside, eating a can of ravioli,” she said. Another bear tried to get into a camper where a father and son were sleeping. The bear rocked the truck until its occupants shouted enough to make the animal leave.
“You know, the whole deal is they are hungry. We’re sure they’re not going away. We just feel badly for them,” Brink said.
Mindful of the state’s two-strike policy, she stressed that the resort operation is working at living with the bears.
“We’re actually in their habitat rather than them being in ours,” she said.
A bear climbed into the bathroom window of a trailer owned by Sweetwater residents Alicia Holder and Bill Hargleroad. Holder said the bear visited at least three times. Damage to the trailer was minimal.
“I didn’t want him tagged. I would prefer that the bears stay outside. But bless their hearts, there’s no food right now,” Holder said.
Sweetwater Lake is just over the Eagle County border in Garfield County. Marzec said wildlife officials hope that Garfield County will adopt a bear regulation similar to the one Eagle County recently approved. The Eagle County ordinance prohibits the feeding of wildlife and requires bear-proof trash containers in specific areas that are known to have bear problems.
People who violate the regulation either by deliberately feeding wildlife or by leaving out trash that attracts animals get a warning on the first offense. Subsequent offenses have escalating fines from $100 to $500.
Marzec said the Garfield County planning staff is working on drafting a similar ordinance for consideration by the county commissioners.
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